Why Am I Not Joyful?

Sometimes, the most profound answer is hidden within the simplest question. In , Paul said, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!”.

Joy is the inner need of we humans. When God created man, His original intent was that we enjoy complete joy while walking with Him. tells us that when we walk by the Spirit, the fruit the Holy Spirit will produce in our hearts is joy. In <Gal 5:16, 22>, God tells us that He will eventually wipe every tear from our eyes, and we will never be invaded by death, mourning, crying, pain, etc. Therefore, even if sometimes we cannot be joyful, we should not doubt God’s heart towards us, which is, He absolutely desires that we are joyful. God clearly knows that a cheerful heart is good medicine, that not only heals our body, but can even heal deep-rooted mental and depressive problems. In fact, even medical research studies report that laughter can reduce human pain, and make our hearts, lungs and muscles relax, even moderating depression. This is because in laughter, the human body produces endorphins (a chemical that makes us feel good, and increase resilience). Because of this, everyone desires to be joyful, and pursues positive emotions. Whether it is our human experience or from a medical angle, we all know that humans cannot remain in a prolonged state of joylessness.

Joy is a form of need, as well as, a human necessity. But also because of this, we humans who have departed from God seek joy from the wrong sources. Some people seek pleasure in sin. They drink, smoke, have fun, in order to enjoy temporal happiness, and forget temporary troubles. In Norway, there was a research report affirming that smokers have the least tolerance towards pain. This suggests that whenever smokers encounter pain, they usually resort to smoking to drown their sorrows. In addition, there are also people who try to busy themselves with things, including even helping others, so that they can feel happy. The issue is not with helping others, but if we use helping others as a way of breaking free from our pain, inferiority complex or guilt, then that is not truly resolving the root issue of our inability to be joyful. Therefore, many people strive hard to serve in the church, even shepherding others, but one day, they themselves completely break down, and even stumble. That is because they cannot understand the root of why they are unable to be joyful.

The most prevalent is people nowadays are inclined towards positive psychology, using positive thinking to adjust their feelings. Otherwise, they will adopt certain therapies or humanistic ways to get themselves into positive emotions. Such trends also influence the church increasingly. In certain denominations, the pastors’ teachings specially advocate the uncontrollable laughter or weeping that come after being filled with the Holy Spirit, so as to bring about healing and deliverance in one’s emotions. In the in which Paul specially talked about the theme of “joy”, we do not see such a phenomenon, neither do we hear Paul advocate such ways of experiencing the Holy Spirit. Indeed, whatever flows from the heart is then the true fruit . Even secular psychology says that even laughter should come from the inner heart, otherwise it also cannot truly increase human resilience. Indeed, after we left God, we all do not know joy. We keep seeking all kinds of satisfaction to gain the joy that only can come from God. We travel, shop, have fun, pursue marriage, desire to have children, seek job performance, etc, actually we have to ask ourselves what is the purpose of doing all these?

Simply put, our hearts wish to have joyful satisfaction. What is worse is we also believe that is the joyful satisfaction given by God, thus we keep pursuing, but conversely, we are further and further away from the joy given by God. Some people say, “Why can’t God be like Santa Claus, always giving us surprises? Like letting us find a good job, or meet a good partner, or hear our children telling us that they have won awards in schools, or those who are sick hear good reports from the doctors, etc”.

Actually, God does not take away our joys in these areas. If we confirm carefully, in our lives, we have all tasted these surprises of eating, drinking, playing, shopping, enjoying, success, or being delivered from dangers. But indeed, we did not enter into deeper and more absolute joys because of these surprises. Because of this, we also realize that when we gain more, our happiness index does not increase; conversely, we are more and more unsatisfied. This shows that we have not enjoyed all these in the Lord, and have not relied on the Lord to be joyful. We merely experienced the excitement of “having more”, but that excitement does not equal to the joy of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps we have gratitude towards God, but that gratitude does not spur us to look down on what is light and momentary and pursue that eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.

We merely experienced the excitement of “having more”, but that excitement does not equal to the joy of the Holy Spirit.

On the contrary, we all the more cannot let go of what we have. Therefore, we must clearly understand that we are not joyful, as well as the reason for that, so that we can truly rejoice in the Lord.


We are not joyful not because we do not want to, but we “cannot” be joyful

Man cannot be joyful because he does not know what true joy is.

If we do not know true joy, how can we be joyful? Think about it, if I do not know my wife, then to me, she is but a woman on the street. How can I love her and take her as my wife? That is impossible. The love in the heart starts from knowing. Thus, a person can never use his will to make his heart joyful, he can only try to use his fallen nature and follow his fallen instincts to pursue the pleasures he knows, and that is what the Bible calls “the pleasures of sin”. That is centred on this life and focused on satisfying the temporal flesh. There is no lasting and eternal joy in it, no joy of being at peace with God, but there is only the changeable joy sought by self-centredness. That is the joy enjoyed under the judgment of the spirit and the accusation of the conscience. Then some people may ask, “Does God not give us joy of the flesh?” Not so! The Lord certainly cares for our physical bodies, as well as our emotional needs, thus <Ps 103:5> says He satisfies our desires with good things.

There is no lasting and eternal joy in it, no joy of being at peace with God, but there is only the changeable joy sought by self-centredness.

However, human satisfaction is different from animal satisfaction. Animals can be satisfied with food and mating, but humans must receive from the Lord and rely on the Lord to enjoy every blessing of the flesh, then humans can be contented.


By faith, Moses knew another kind of joy and satisfaction, so he was unwilling to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin.

<Heb 11:24-26> mentions a few times about Moses, by faith, chose to…rather than…he looked ahead…. Here it says that by faith, he was renewed in his entire heart and mind. His heart (appetite) for joy and satisfaction had changed. That was not caused by a moment of excitement or passion. This is like some people feel that believing in Jesus can bring them some benefits, or they decide to believe after being stirred by some emotionally high environment. However, they must ask whether the appetite in their hearts has changed. Many a times, they do not ask if their appetite to joy and satisfaction is different from the past. If it has not changed, then they may not have known the Lord, or the joy in the Lord. Then, is the “by faith” mentioned here referring to our own choice? Is it a decision that can be made by one’s own will? Can a person force his own heart to “rather, be unwilling, look ahead”? We know it cannot be. We can have a heart of joy and satisfaction through the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit which comes to us by the gospel of Christ, such that from one day onwards, we cannot be satisfied with the pleasures of sin. We start to feel empty towards this world. Our happiness index cannot increase even with acquiring more materials or human praise. By then, we will know that it is God’s grace that made us believe, and by faith, the appetite in our hearts truly changes.


There are only three reasons why a true believer of the Lord cannot be joyful.

Due to the lack of feeding of God’s word, such that he keeps living in false joy

Although some people believe in the Lord, no one has fed their newborn soul with God’s pure word. Thus, their spiritual state is like that of a spiritual infant without spiritual milk. Although they may still be able to live normally, their souls keep crying. We humans can naturally hear the crying of a physical baby, but it is not easy to hear the cries of a spiritual infant. The Samaritan woman, Zaccheus, even Peter who followed the Lord, were all such a person. Although they knew the existence of God, their spiritual state was very miserable, so they simply lived for the sake of staying alive. Sometimes, we thought that such people are troubled because their lives are not smooth, but the truth is, they are living in powerlessness because their spirits are dry and under accusations. Therefore, they mostly use money or work, or any fleeting pleasure to satisfy their hearts. Indeed, if a new believing spiritual infant does not receive the feeding of God’s word, he may fall into a state almost similar to non-believers. Thus, Paul in his epistles kept teaching believers with God’s truth. Even in prison, he also described the reasons why he could still be joyful, such as how he saw whatever happened to him had served to advance the gospel ; how he overcame death, and even saw death as the best gain ; how he considered everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ . These were all the foundation of Paul’s joy, because he clearly knew what made people not joyful is none other than living to satisfy the flesh because of not knowing the truth. Some new believers may say they cannot feel such joy, so the pastors leading them just use lopsided biblical truths to feed them. This is in fact a huge mistake, because this not only distorts their spiritual taste, but it also cannot make them full, such that their joys are mostly built on acquiring more on earth, instead of understanding by faith the eternal word of life given by God. Actually, the gospel itself leads us to the truth and makes us understand the truth, so that we can receive freedom. In fact, when a new believer soundly knows and confirms the pure truth, the Holy Spirit will gradually reform “the sense of his heart”, so that he can feel and yearn for spiritual blessings and thus be strengthened in his heart.


As a result of being bound by sin, he is troubled in the heart.

<Galatians 5:13> tells believers not to use our freedom to indulge the flesh. <Galatians 5:17>also says the Holy Spirit and the flesh desire what is contrary to each other, they are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do whatever you want. In fact, the most realistic battle we believers have on earth is the conflict between the Holy Spirit inside us and our flesh. Until we breathe our last, this battle will carry on. Because of this battle, sometimes we who are true believers of God will also be troubled, especially when we are overcome by transgressions, and remain stuck in some sins. Some believers sin till a stage they cherish sin in their hearts (they themselves also delight in remaining in that kind of indulgent living). If we are in that state, we are in fact not delighted with living in sin, because the Bible clearly tells us that at that moment, we are doing what we do not want. Our spirits are actually harshly accused by the evil one, as if we are taken captive by him and have fallen into his trap. At that moment, in order to save us from the control of sin, the Holy Spirit who grieves over us will certainly discipline us. <Heb 12:11> tells us that discipline will not make us feel happy, but painful. Thus, sometimes the longer our discipline, the longer our unhappiness. But this verse also says that those who have been trained will yield the peaceful fruit of righteousness. Sometimes, this discipline is also the process of God purifying and refining us. This painful process is needed, otherwise our stubborn, rebellious or easily tempted appetite cannot be corrected. We who have been bound by sin are very clear that even if we are sorrowfully repentant for a while and have the resolution to repent, the force that is binding our flesh is still very great. Thus, in order that we can thoroughly turn away from sin, the Lord constantly refines us, so that our hearts can truly be cleansed and can restore the original appetite. Here, we also want to remind shepherds, when someone is caught in a sin, , or has fallen into the devil’s trap , the Bible teaches that we should restore that person gently. Even if we were to speak the truth or to rebuke, we must have a gentle heart to accept him, because at this moment, in the spirit of the transgressor, there is already huge accusation.

In order that we can thoroughly turn away from sin, the Lord constantly refines us, so that our hearts can truly be cleansed and can restore the original appetite.

Thus, if we rebuke him too harshly, he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. We must be clear about the devil’s scheme in this area .

Because there are worries in the heart.

Sometimes our sorrows are not due to falling short of God’s grace morally, it is also possible that they come from our easily weak and helpless human nature. In particular, we are living in a world which hates us and is hostile to us. Our surrounding environment keeps sending us hints to affect our faith. This is like young people are troubled over their future, parents are worried about their delinquent children, the sick are concerned about their health, etc. On top of these, life is full of uncertainties, so our whole life is more or less packed with worries. Even if tribulations are a reality of this life, Paul clearly told us the secret to remain joyful, that is, do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus . In fact, other than knowing the truth and breaking free from the trap of sin, another essential lesson we saints must train in our whole life is to cast our worries to the Lord. That does not come overnight. Many a times, apostle Paul was led by God into weaknesses, hardships and difficulties; at that moment, he “could only rely on the Lord”. To rely on the Lord is not to follow blindly in the mind, but to do whatever we can according to the Lord’s will, then present the rest of the requests to the Lord by prayers, petitions and thanksgiving, until we experience in our hearts the transcending support and strength given by the Holy Spirit. This is the secret to eliminate worries in the heart. In particular, for situations which we cannot change or problems which we cannot solve, the best is not to analyze too much.

To rely on the Lord is not to follow blindly in the mind, but to do whatever we can according to the Lord’s will, then present the rest of the requests to the Lord by prayers, petitions and thanksgiving, until we experience in our hearts the transcending support and strength given by the Holy Spirit.

We must especially be careful not to let all kinds of online messages of this era insinuate our spirits. We must firmly believe the guidance of God in our hearts. That is, as long as we know how to guard our own hearts and cast our worries to the Lord, He will certainly lead us to hear the right information, receive the right guidance and make the right decisions.


In fear and trembling, live a life of faith with true joy.

Since already been saved, continue to work out salvation with fear and trembling

Salvation is not in the efforts of man, but the work of salvation (having sufficient faith and love, so as to be joyful in all things) is something all believers should pursue. If it is with fear and trembling that a Christian is able to work out his salvation, his joy in the Lord will inevitably continue to increase. What is fear and trembling? It is not a type of fear, but it is a kind of reverence and caution. The opposite of fear and trembling is to do whatever you want, without vigilance. Why should believers live with fear and trembling? There are two reasons for this, one is positive and the other is negative. The positive reason is because the great and awesome God always guides and teaches him in his heart. If he does not have fear and trembling, he will not be able to hear the voice of the Lord, and hence will follow his own will and be easily led by selfish desires and temptations. The negative reason is that we believers have enemies. Our enemies are the flesh, the world, and Satan who steal our joy daily. Without fear and trembling, we will not be aware of our enemies who want to devour us daily.


Because of fear and trembling, there is no grumbling or getting into an argument

A person with real joy will not easily grumble or get into an argument. His fearful and trembling heart always tells him to put to death such wicked deeds, because a heart that easily grumbles is actually one that is dissatisfied with the guidance of the Master of his life. Today, we see that in this busy and fast-paced world, people are easily careless in the choice of their words, and at the slightest provocation, they start to grumble or blame others. In particular, in social media, we see that people easily reveal their negative emotions. This also proves that people with true joy are getting scarcer. However, not grumbling does not mean to be deliberate in being positive. In some cases where it is necessary to explain, we Christians always express our opinions honestly and sincerely. In this way, we are different and set apart from this warped and crooked generation.

By living with fear and trembling, the Way of Life is being demonstrated

Demonstrating the Way of Life refers to saints living a life set apart for God. If a generation of people fails in one area, a believer who lives his life with fear and trembling is definitely able to exemplify his difference. For example, if a generation of people is self-centred or likes to grumble, if we rely on the Lord and live a different life, we would then have shown the Way of Life. Here, we will know that living the Way is not one that is comfortable, but it is going against the trend of a generation and culture. Therefore, believers who live their lives with fear and trembling will bring about the ability to oppose culture and trends.

Even if suffering is near, it is possible to be joyful at the same time.

Because some believers have not received the right biblical teachings, they think that having a faith with fear and trembling is one that is tight and restrictive, and hence they like to pursue a faith that feels good, and proclaim that to be the joy that Christ gives to His believers. Therefore, the modern church preaching has its foundation on direct experiences of miraculous signs or emotional bursts, but such a faith is created to receive joy rather than to win over the world. Praise the Lord! Paul clearly showed us that the end result of working out our salvation with fear and trembling is joy. Such a joy transcends life and death, and it also triumphs over suffering on earth. This is the joy of dying with the Lord, resurrecting and walking together with Him. In this case, regardless of the challenge that is approaching, our hopes are more real and the joy even deeper.

Pastor Vincent Choo

Vincent is the Senior Pastor of The Life Church and Missions (Singapore) and is an ardent missionary to the Chinese World. He currently lives in Singapore with his wife, Qiufen, and has three kids, Mary, David, and Caleb.

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